Meeting the Needs of English Learners in California: Assessment & Instruction

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

English learners in general need differentiated instruction to succeed in school. In California, the case is no different. This lesson overviews assessment and differentiated instruction for ELLs in California.

Assessments and Differentiated Instruction

Adriana is a Mexican student in a California public school. As a California student, Adriana takes tests that assess her progress in the English language and in subjects such as reading, science, and math. Thus, Adriana's teachers work hard to prepare her for the tests. They do this by planning differentiated instruction lessons. Differentiated instruction is about giving different students the assistance they need to learn depending on their individual needs.

Strategies to Teach in California

There are some instructional strategies you can apply to prepare California students for academic success. Let's look at the strategies.

Consider Different Language Levels in the Classroom

Technically speaking, all English learners in your class are at the same level. However, not all students learn at the same pace and, thus, their language level varies. For example, in Adriana's classroom all her peers are at the emerging stage of learning English. In California, the emerging stage is the beginner level.

However, Adriana's teacher notices that Adriana and two other peers have difficulty with speaking practice. Thus, the teacher makes sure to assist such students during speaking practice to help them put into words the language they know. This way, those students receive individual attention.

Provide a Variety of Opportunities to Develop Language

As per the California English Language Development (ELD) and content standards, students must be able to communicate in English in a variety of manners and topics. For instance, Adriana is learning to make short oral presentations. To help students learn how to speak to an audience, the teacher shows videos and brings in a speaker who gives some useful tips on public speaking.

Videos and speakers are a good example of opportunities that develop language in students, as well as go beyond the regular instruction a teacher gives. Finally, students often appreciate any new opportunity teachers can provide to develop their language, knowledge, and skills.

Align Assessment Tasks With Level of Assessment

All assessments have a specific purpose and a level, and California's assessments are no exception. When teachers prepare their students to take such assessments, they often have students practice with tasks that are similar to the assessment. This is a great idea because the student gets to practice test skills. However, it is important to align the purpose and level of the assessments your students take with the assessment task you give.

To illustrate, Adriana's teacher knows that the writing portion of the English language standardized test includes a short personal essay. The purpose of the essay is to assess the student's ability to discuss personal aspects in writing, and the level is for beginner students. Thus, the teacher assigns Adriana and her peers to write about personal topics such as likes and dislikes, daily routine, etc. These topics are simple enough that they align with the beginner level, and they also align with the purpose of the assessment.

Create a Good Testing Environment

Can you imagine trying to take a test in a classroom that is too hot or too cold? The testing environment is very important for your students because they would ideally be as comfortable as possible. Aspects to consider for an appropriate testing environment include room temperature, enough space for each student, comfortable desks, writing materials, etc. In addition, make sure to provide students with accommodations if needed (e.g. allow an interpreter for a student with a hearing problem).

Use Multiple Measures

California sets different standards for specific subject content and for English language learning. For example, an ELD standard for Adriana, who is in third grade, involves her ability to interpret text. Adriana has to be able to analyze how a writer uses language to convey an idea. To do this, Adriana could write about how a writer uses adjectives to give the reader a clear idea of the scenario in a story.

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